Sunday, November 29, 2009

GHG Emissions and Demographics; Japan and the US

Prime Minister Hatoyama announced that he would push for a GHG reduction target that would reduce net Japanese emissions to 75% of 1990 levels—the equivalent of 67% of the 2005 level. Caveat: the Japanese target is contingent on major fence-sitters—read US and China—coming up with their own comparable sacrifices. The Obama administration has just come out with its own goal that aims to reduce US emissions to 85% of the 2005 level, or 97% of the 1995 level. The Japanese figures look far more impressive than the corresponding US figures. Does this mean that Hatoyama has far greater ambitions than Obama?

What’s missing from the ongoing debate in Japan is the demographics perspective. The Japanese population plateaued in the post-bubble years and peaked in 2005 at 3% above the 1990 level so it will be back to the 1990 level when 2020 rolls around. The US population, in contrast, was at 21% above the 1990 level in 2005, and is expected to be 38% above the 1990 level in 2020. Do the arithmetic and you’ll find that, on a per capita basis, the Japan target represents a 25% reduction from the 1990 level and a 33% reduction from the 2005 level, while the US target represents 30% and 33% reductions respectively. In per capita terms—the most equitable yardstick according to many pundits as well as most developing countries lacking oil export capacities—the US target is arguably more ambitious than the Japanese one.

There are too other important factors that determine existing energy/GHG-emissions profiles to say anything definite about the relative merits of the goals that state actors have been pushing on behalf of their constituencies. Still, a cursory look at the demographics indicates that the Obama administration’s target is nothing to sneer at compared to the corresponding figure for the Hatoyama administration.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

”Hatoyama vs. Obama”? Doesn’t the Emperor Count?

The following is adapted from my response to a visiting scholar whose friend back in the US wanted to know if there was any veracity to this article in Shūkan Bunshun, a weekly general interest magazine whose sensationalism is around 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in this publishing category. The scholar notes that the Free Republic is a far right blog. He himself comes across as a moderate Republican—hey, if you’re recruiting, HA and LG…

Short answer: Who knows? But leaving aside my views on the veracity of independent (i.e. not published by the major dailies) weeklies, including the authenticity of their sources, the article boils down to two points:
1) The Hatoyama administration is dithering over Futenma because the DPJ fears the SDP.
2) The two sides got into a diplomatic pissing match because Obama administration is pissed off at the Hatoyama administration for dithering over Futenma.
1) is only partly true. SDP’s internal dynamics—the election manifesto, the leftish elements, its unanimously anti-military base Okinawa contingent, Hatoyma’s personality, Okada’s personal attachment to the Kadena option—have at least as much to do with the confusion as the SDP’s position does. To look at it from another angle, I don’t think this is a coalition breaker for the DPJ.

As for 2), this is the first time that I heard speculation that Obama had delayed his departure one day to express his displeasure. I’m sure there has been some speculation about Hatoyama’s motives. Me? I think a tit-for-tat would not be conducive to a satisfactory resolution of the problem. But then, maybe none of the advisors on either side is smarter than your average kindergartener.

I can think of perfectly legitimate reasons for Obama not leaving Washington immediately after a top-priority, inconclusive NIC session with no easy conclusions, leaving most of the principals behind to wrestle with the question in his absence. (Now that would have been Kobe beef for the right-wing media/blogs.) Of course anything is pure speculation unless one has access to his full itinerary—which I assume that the Japanese writer is likewise not privy to.

As for Hatoyama, the reason given in Tokyo was that he left because he didn’t want to skip the APEC inaugural dinner. And what’s wrong with that? So he should have accommodated the last-minute changes in Obama’s itinerary by staying on for the last, ceremonial leg of Obama’s visit and given up engaging, as a newly-minted Japanese PM, in Asia-Pacific summitry in Singapore? What kind of message would that have sent to Japan’s neighbors, especially when he would be hosting next year’s APEC summit? The clincher in my view is our Emperor, who, from a ceremonial perspective, is better than a run-of-the-mill [head of state]. The Chinese authorities have been using their Hu-Wen tag team (and odd-couple Jiang-Zhu before that) to great logistical advantage; now, Moscow is putting Medvedev and Putin to the same task. True, the Emperor has no power—but does Dmitry?

Occam’s Razor, I think.

That said, if some people want to take a single tabloid article as gospel, that's their problem, not mine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Should Be Responding to the People Who Stuck with Me…

But I’m weary to my bones, so—and the slacker that I am and to save LCH the trouble of googling—for those of you who come to my blog not named DM… I give you… Jonte Moaning! Channeling J.P. Polnareff?

FYI, that’s his real name, Jonte Moaning, Jefferson High School, class of 2001.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's Less to U.S.-Japanese Frictions than Meets the Eye

From The Call, a little perspective on Japan-U.S. relations as things heat up around troops realignment. It got out there a little more slowly than I’d hoped because of unavoidable circumstances that I won’t go into here, but it’s not as if it’s already dated, so there you are.

Here’s an earlier piece if you want to know what our thoughts were on the outlook immediately after the DPJ victory. What’s striking to me is that on both issues (refueling operations, Futenma), the Hatoyama Cabinet has been consistently sending mixed signals that add to the problems. I think that I see this elsewhere, and it’s usually a bad thing. If Hatoyama is not careful, the media and hence the voting public will begin dealing with him as a continuation of the recent string of ineffectual prime ministers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

“‘Oasis of the Seas’: Go Inside the World’s Largest Cruise Ship”?

The underlying message of this PR video not even pretending to be a work of journalism is that you can do everything on this ship that you can do in Tokyo/New York/Florida. Hmm…

My personal takeaway? A reminder of how inherently boring it was on the high seas oh so many decades ago when I crossed the Pacific on a ship—because it was cheaper.

And you wonder why they mutinied on the Bounty.

Twitter: Yuriko Koike

No, I don’t twitter, and I don’t follow anyone either. But in the course of work this morning (I was looking up the World Economic Forum), I bumped into this. Dig around her tweets and you’re bound to run into other LDP twitterers, in case you want to know what they’re up to these days.

Just thought you might want to know. Okay, back to work.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How They are Doing: The Odd Couple

Rarely does a week go by in the two month old Hatoyama administration without news of yet another outrageous Ozawa incursion on Hatoyama territory. The most spectacular and embarrassing example has been the crackdown on Government Revitalization Minister Yoshito Sengoku and Yukio Edano, the head of Sengoku’s team of parliamentary examiners tasked to squeeze a minimum of 3 trillion yen out of the 95 trillion yen FY2010 budget request submitted by the ministries and agencies as well as the pile of money—buried treasures?—already stashed in their public and private affiliates. Specifically, less than a week after the appointment of 32 examiners, Ozawa showed Sengoku and Edano and by extension the entire Hatoyama administration who was boss, forcing them to drop first-term members from the team; Sengoku/Edano eventually wound up with only 7 Diet members leading a team of 56 private sector experts to comb over the budget requests (closely aided by budget cutters from the Ministry of Finance). Also highly visible has been talk of Ozawa’s support for Diet member sponsored legislation for the extraordinary Diet session in direct contravention of his own ban on freebooting. (Most legislative bills are submitted by the Cabinet, although this is not what the framers of the Japanese Constitution envisaged.)

Such talk actually highlights Ozawa’s religious observance of his division of power. First, regarding the crackdown on the Task Force: Ozawa had installed an around-the-clock program for rookie Lower House members elected in the 30 August landslide victory. The Government Revitalization Task Force appointments, made without his knowledge, clearly interfered with that regimen; Sengoku and Edano, two Diet members with at best chilly relationships with Ozawa, had invaded the latter’s turf. The Task Force reassembled, Ozawa and his closest associates have maintained total silence on its actual work there. Second, talk of Ozawa’s contravention of his (constitutionally sketchy) ban on DPJ Diet member sponsored legislative bills appears to be mostly talk, and not necessarily coming from Ozawa himself. For the only bill that is likely to survive the ban is aimed at assisting hepatitis victims suffering as the result of government malfeasance—a bipartisan undertaking that dates back to the LDP administrations under popular MLHW Minister Yoichi Masuzoe. A couple of other legislative proposals have gone by the wayside, including a controversial if inconsequential—apologies to Yoshiko Sakurai and Sankei Shinbun—proposal, long championed by Ozawa and Hatoyama and Foreign Affairs Minister Okada among many (but opposed by coalition partner PNP’s leader Shizuka Kamei), to give permanent residents the right to vote in local elections. This one has been tossed back, if reports are to be believed, by Ozawa himself to the Hatoyama Cabinet—which appears to be shelving it for the foreseeable future.

In all this, it has often appeared that it is less Ozawa himself than associates of this enigmatic, often laconic, figure to using the shadows that he casts to push their own personal agendas. In truth, Ozawa has not weighed in on any of the substantive issues that are headliners in their own right. Contrary to headlines both mainstream and non, Ozawa has remained faithful to the compact that allowed him to exercise an iron hand on party matters while putting Hatoyama and his cabinet in control of policy.

Does this mean that all is well in Tokyo? No. Ozawa’s failure to discipline his henchpersons (yes, “henchperson” is recognized as a word by Bill Gates) still leaves Hatoyama vulnerable to charges that he is a figurehead for whom Ozawa calls the shots. Now, Hatoyama is doing more than his share to create political distraction by his own stream-of-consciousness explications of his political intent. He doesn’t need the media’s help to further erode public perception of his political authority—a turn of events which would seriously harm DPJ prospects come the 2010 Upper House elections there the DPJ hopes to rack up a simple majority, which would allow it to rule without the help of its demanding coalition partners.

In the meantime, the problem can spill over into substance. The downsizing of the Task Force (which also forced Sengoku and Edano to pick from multiple-term Diet members who had been passed over by Hatoyama and his ministers for sub-cabinet portfolios and by Ozawa for top party and parliamentary appointments) has forced it to narrow its focus, limiting the potential budget savings from its inquisition of the ministries and agencies and their cling-ons.

Failure to meet expectations plus a growing sense of powerlessness, if illusionary, nevertheless will spell a deadly combination for the Hatoyama administration. The Prime Minister must project a credible sense of being in control; otherwise, he runs the very real danger of allowing the situation to slip by him and create a future that will definitely not be to his liking.

Sorry, have had enough time/energy to go over new comments.

Friday, November 06, 2009

How They Are Doing: Akira Nagatsuma

Now, one of my big misses:

I predicted that he would be a headline generator for the Hatoyama administration. And he was. For a while. For the most trivial of reasons, as well as a more serious flap over the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance. But the news cycle quickly shifted to meatier issues such as Futenma threatening to cast a pall on Japan-U.S. relations, the campaign promises that threaten to break the bank, and, of course, the laborious process of setting up operations (including the inevitable Ozawa questions), leaving Nagatsuma to toil away in relative quiet.

That said, Nagatsuma’s own actions have helped deflect media attention keep the spotlight off his turf. He has genuinely recognized his shortcomings—basically, a lack of any experience in the field except his admittedly substantial investigative efforts—and made a conscious decision to reach into the bureaucracy to learn the explore the territory before striking out on his own.

Nagatsuma showed good judgment on the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System as well. As the DPJ looked to ways to fulfill its campaign promise to scotch Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance, the local governments threatened to revolt over yet another makeover only a couple of years into the new system. In the first place, the unpopularity of the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance had stemmed not from any major flaws in its substance but from trivial complaints* that a bad rollout plan (or lack thereof) had been magnified in the media glare against a background of resentment and mistrust toward the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. As an effective anti-MHLW crusader for the DPJ—his pursuit of the missing pension accounts scandal was arguably the single most important factor in the DPJ takedown of the LDP-Komeito regime—he carried none of the political baggage of his LDP predecessors. Thus, when he quickly backed away from the situation and tabled the matter for future action—most likely as part of a more thoroughgoing reform of the national healthcare insurance system—there remained no substantial vested interests to demand a return to the old system and hence little media attention to the issue. The long-term issues remain, but, at a minimum, he’ll have the rest of this Hatoyama administration’s term to work out a plan—with the cooperation of the bureaucracy.

Of course Nagatsuma’s portfolio is only one lethal genetic mutation away from being overwhelmed with a swine flu pandemic. Which brings me to another point: He is likely to have his hands on the MHLW portfolio for the next 3-4 years—more than enough time for health-related catastrophes large and small to occur. His leadership and communications skills will be tested, when everything will turn on his command of his troops. The much-maligned MHLW has, in the public eye, performed with few miscues on swine flu up till now, so it is to his credit that he has worked to play down his reputation as an MHLW nemesis.

* 1) The name “Late-term Elderly (後期高齢者)” was deemed callous and disrespectful.
2) Deducting the premiums from their public pension checks was deemed callous and disrespectful. But this actually affects only the cases where a) someone else (the oldest son?) other than the beneficiary is paying the premium and b) that someone decides to take the opportunity of the switchover to stop doing so.
3) There were complaints over higher premiums. But they actually fell on average, though they did rise in some municipalities because local subsidies were dropped in the switchover to management at prefectural levels.
4) The new system caps the transfer from the rest of the national healthcare insurance system. This means that the (currently very low) copayments will rise for the elderly as the population ages. This figured less in the public outcry than the trivia, though, most likely since otherwise the DPJ and the media would have had to present alternatives.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

How They Are Doing: Shizuka Kamei

I suggested at the beginning of the Hatoyama administration that Kamei Shizuka, the Minister of State with the double portfolio of Financial Services and Postal Reform, would be the wild card in the Hatoyama deck. He has not disappointed so far, predictably putting down his marker on Japan Post and more surprisingly, to everyone’s alarm, calling for a moratorium on bank loans to small and medium businesses—as well as speaking up on other issues as the head of the junior-most coalition partner People’s New Party.

A standstill on the privatization process for Japan Post had been a foreordained conclusion since the portfolio fell to Kamei, who had been exiled from the LDPO when he opposed then Prime Minister Koizumi’s privatization plans. Thus, most of the media attention, mostly unfavorable, fell on the choice of Jiro Saito, a former MOF Vice-Minister, whose appointment (as well as the nomination of another ex-MOF official to the board of directors) was attacked (unfairly in my view) as a “decent from heaven,” as the new Japan Post CEO, while Ayako Sono, the 78 year-old conservative Catholic novelist, also attracted some attention as a celebrity appointment to the JP board. What was overlooked in all this, though, was the overall, old-school LDP look of the new JP leadership. With two ex-MOF officials and one ex-Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (now folded into MIAC) on board as well as Hiroshi Okuda, the previous Keidanren Chairman, and a top executive from Canon, which currently holds the Keidanren chair on the board, it’s about as “1955 System “as it can get without being an LDP selection outright. Sono herself has graced many a government advisory board and was brought in as chairman at the Nippon Foundation by the Sasagawa family to clean up the image of their fiefdom. Also notable is the fact that there is only one member of the board with banking experience, a former executive at the failed Long-Term Credit Bank.

More surprising and potentially far more damaging, at least in the short run, was Kamei’s call for a 3-year moratorium on bank loans to small and medium businesses. Taken at full face value, the populist measure would have wreaked havoc on commercial financing. Subsequent negotiations whittled it down to a non-mandatory measure with a 60% semi-government guarantee and reporting requirements—not that far beyond the scope of past counter-recession measures (though the reporting requirements will serve to exert public pressure on the banks) . In fact, it is likely that the exercise will be repeated if there is a second dip in the economic recovery as many fear and some predict.

What does the future hold for the DPJ with regard to Kamei’s antics? Not much, actually. I think that he’s basically shot the works. He buried Koizumi/Takenaka’s legacy, and made his mark on his other, financial, portfolio. His populist instinct will no doubt lead to more outbursts as we go along, but I believe that we’ve seen the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) of his achievements. And he should be happy with that.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hatoyama’s Money Woes

I’ve been telling people who’ll listen for some time that there’s a small but non-negligible chance of Hatoyama leaving office before the next Upper House election in September 2010. It’s unlikely that he’ll be indicted, but there is a fairly good chance that the media will conclude that he knew of the arrangements that had funneled personal and family money to his political operations in violation of the political financing law, likely from the very beginning of his political career. He has a fairly good chance of riding it out, though, because he’s not being accused of taking money—essentially, he’s a miniature Bloomberg/Corzine. Still, his past statements regarding LDP politicians who have run afoul of the political financing laws—he has consistently called for their heads regardless of their personal complicity—are coming back to haunt him. His problems are compounded by his consistent fumbling, rambling and bumbling on the issues. He’s definitely undershooting the high hopes and low expectations of the public that swept the DPJ into office. But, as veteran economist AS said, it still beats no hopes, no expectations. (Now what could he have been referring to, hmm?) So he can still win by default.

From the Indian Ocean to Offshore Somalia?

I’ve been telling people that taking the JSMDF escort ship/destroyer that has been accompanying the refueling vessel for the counter-terrorism operations on the Indian and redirecting it to the counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast would be a low cost way to square the circle. It appears that MOD and now the Hatoyama administration are also taking a serious look at this option. Let me put it this way: It certainly beats throwing even more money at the Afghan police than the Japanese authorities are doing right now—for which I’m not sure that the Afghan public in general would be grateful to Japan.

Translating the Titles of Government Officials

I intend to do a one-by-one follow-up of what I hoped were educated guesses about the personalities in the Hatoyama administration as well as the relationship between the Prime Minister and Ichiro Ozawa. I don’t think they’ve been that far off the mark, though some of the actual incidents have caught me by surprise.

In the meantime, for your amusement:

The Prime Minister’s Office’s lists of the English-language titles of cabinet and sub-cabinet political appointees, specifically the Ministers (大臣), Senior Vice-Ministers (副大臣) and Parliamentary Secretaries (政務官) here. Note the MOFA (and MOFA-only) substitute of the preposition “of” with “for”. MOFA has subtly distinguished itself in this and other ways with regard to its English-language titles, but has really gone overboard on its own website, where it calls its Senior Vice-Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries “State Secretaries” and “Parliamentary Vice-Ministers” respectively. I’m not sure how long MOFA has been doing this, but I do recall that an across-the-board Parliamentary Secretary-to-Parliamentary Vice-Minister upgrade was set in motion during the Koizumi administration when METI Parliamentary Secretary Satsuki Katayama (Lower House) reportedly complained that she would be mistaken for a “secretary.” When the authorities were slow to respond, she took the matter into her own hands and bestowed the “Vice-Minister” title on herself. Soon, all the “Parliamentary Secretaries” were calling themselves “Parliamentary Vice-Ministers.” I looked in fairly recently to find that they had for the most part reverted to “Parliamentary Secretaries” but that the Ministry of (not “for”) Foreign Affairs had retained the upgrade and given its “Senior Vice-Ministers” an additional twist. (Or had things always been so there?)

METI, incidentally, substitutes “of” with “for” in the case of its Parliamentary Secretary but not the Minister or Senior Vice-Minister. I understand the logic behind it— “of” and “for” are used discriminatingly for the non-political appointees as well for basically the same reason.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

East Asia Community

Anyone who talks about an East Asia Community should be forced to define that term and stick to that definition through that particular discourse. Otherwise, any talk is at best meaningless. I think that this is a rule that should be generalized through all public discourse. It’s the only way to enforce basic rules of logic.

That’s it for today. Thanks for visiting.

Forward and Backward in Time

I found that I was not the only person with a college degree who had problems with intuitively grasping the meaning of “forward” “ and “backward” in time when I saw the following passage in an analysis of prospects for sanctions on Iran.
“[T]he new revelations will quicken the sanctions timeline, bringing it back to late 2009.”
No one should have problems figuring out that the analyst meant that the sanctions were now likely to come more quickly (this was near the end of September), so the error went mostly undetected, but the correct phrase should have been “bringing it forward.” The antonym phrase is “push back.” It’s confusing for us, who have lived under unidirectional, chronological time for at least a couple of centuries, to have to come “back” from the future, but I didn't write the rules for Christian Europe. If you think I am sampling a Benedict Anderson riff here, you’re right. And not without shame either, since I have an aversion to anything that carries even a whiff of post-modernist narrative and yet I cannot deny that Imagined Communities is a masterful, insightful book.

Note that time travel eliminates the “unidirectional, chronological” nature of time. That is why “Back to the [already existent] Future” makes intuitive sense.

DPJ Crosses Red Line with Support for Anti-Helicopter Base Candidate

I’ve believed, like many people here, that if only Prime Minister firmed up and took the heat for sticking with the 2006 agreement to move the U.S. Marine helicopters on Futenma Base to a base to be built offshore of Camp Schwab on the coral seas of the remotest part of Nago City, everyone except the pacifist SDP would fall into line, the bulk of the Marine forces at Futenma could be relocated to Guam, and Futenma would revert to Japan to be used for non-military purposes. After all, the DPJ manifesto and the subsequent DPJ-SDP-PNP policy pact had only carried a vague reference to revisiting the U.S. troop realignment, and even the reprisal in the policy pact—hammered out on the DPJ side by Katsuya Okada—had been a grudging concession to the SDP. The DPJ would—did—have more than enough on the domestic agenda without U.S. relations becoming an unwelcome distraction. The projected landfill might be something of an eyesore, but few people would notice, as Henoko, the part of Nago where Camp Schwab now resides, is one of the most sparsely populated areas in all of Okinawa. More significantly, the helicopter base would bring welcome Tokyo money. Perhaps that is why Nago has elected three pro-base mayors—albeit professing great reluctance and a powerful sense of public duty—in a row. Thus, I had believed Foreign Minister Okada’s most recent brainstorm to relocate the helicopters to Kadena Air Base to be no more than a strawman, to be knocked down by the U.S. side—which the Obama administration promptly proceeded to do at all levels from the Defense Secretary on down—and by the Okinawans themselves—which the good assemblymen of the Kadena township immediately proceeded to do, in a unanimous vote that rejected the idea and, for good measure, called for easing the burden on their own shoulders.

So there the matter would end, and the DPJ administration would have to bow to the inevitable. But what do I know? For Okada has continued to pursue the Kadena option as his “personal proposal,” and at least one news report claims that a senior member of the ruling coalition (phrasing that indicates that the person is not a member of the Hatoyama administration) has sounded out the locals with a scrap-and-build plan to move 28 out of the 48 U.S. F-15s stationed on Kadena Base. I am sure that the Obama administration will be very surprised, and not in a nice way, if the Hatoyama administration ever puts this on the negotiating table. I cannot believe that the Hatoyama would put placating the DPJ (and its own most radical, ex-Socialist elements) ahead of Japan and the United States’ individual and joint security concerns, but, as Okada himself admits, there’s no way of moving the helicopters to Kadena if it increases the net burden. Besides, the U.S. side has made it clear that air traffic control requirements preclude the location of the helicopter fleet conjointly with conventional aircraft on the existing space in Kadena.

So is Okada, and by extension Hatoyama, continuing to play the Kadena card as a show of exhausting all possible avenues? Perhaps. But in the meantime, the locals are getting restless. The good assemblymen of Nago have become irritated at the dithering and are threatening to rescind their offer to host the helicopters. An even more ominous turn in local politics, has the DPJ reportedly deciding to back an anti-helicopter base candidate against the pro-base incumbent in the January mayoral election. This, to me, effectively precludes the possibility of the Hatoyama administration giving the nod to Nago as the site within the year—for good, if the DPJ-backed anti-base candidate wins,

What will the fallout of the birth of an anti-base administration in Nago be like? In the near future, nothing—on the ground at least. The relocation of the U.S. troops from Futenma grinds to a stop, and everything is frozen in situ. But frustration and mistrust will build up among everyone involved—the people of Futenma, the Obama administration, the U.S. military, the Japanese national security establishment—with longer-term, negative consequences all around.